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The Emotions of Sports: So close yet so far away

Many local athletes have been on the verge of winning it all, only to fall short

Posted: August 4, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: August 4, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Former Canyon guard Shorty Dent (22) drives to the basket against Buena of Ventura on Feb. 26 in the semifinals of the CIF-Southern Section Division IIAA playoffs. Canyon lost 60-53. Former Canyon guard Shorty Dent (22) drives to the basket against Buena of Ventura on Feb. 26 in the semifinals of the CIF-Southern Section Division IIAA playoffs. Canyon lost 60-53.
Former Canyon guard Shorty Dent (22) drives to the basket against Buena of Ventura on Feb. 26 in the semifinals of the CIF-Southern Section Division IIAA playoffs. Canyon lost 60-53.

There's this talk about the journey and how it's so much more beautiful than the destination.

Tell that to an athlete or a team who goes through an arduous regular season, then gets deep into the postseason, then loses.

Just like that.

In some cases, the journey takes months and the finality takes seconds.

And it has a taste.

There are numerous stories that involve Santa Clarita Valley sports teams and sports figures where the final destination - a championship or an individual accomplishment - was so close, yet so far away.

There have been others, as is the case of the 2004 Hart baseball team, where the ride was magical and unexpected, then poof, it was gone.

"It was definitely a little bittersweet," recalls former Hart player Steve Susdorf, who is currently an outfielder for the Philadelphia Phillies' Double-A team, the Reading Phillies.

That Hart team was a wild-card entrant into the CIF-Southern Section Division II playoffs - not supposed to go very far.

Then they started knocking off teams left and right - a right bounce here, a robbed home run there and great pitching performance here.

It led up to the Division II semifinal against El Dorado High.

In that game, Hart runner Robert Van Scoyoc stepped over the plate in the seventh inning and was tagged out with the score tied 2-2.

El Dorado then scored in the bottom of the eighth inning to win the game 3-2.

"I remember being excited to have the opportunity to win the game and compete for the finals at Dodger Stadium," Susdorf says. "We all grew up watching games at Dodger Stadium. In the same sense, to come that close and have it taken away, it was bitter in the end. But it gave me a drive to come into college and want to win in college."

Susdorf ended up winning a national title with Fresno State in 2008.

Most recently he's been on the cusp of something more - rising in the Phillies organization.

Yet he had opportunity taken away from him on July 25.

In the eighth inning of a game against the Altoona Curve, Susdorf tumbled when he hit the bag after an infield single.

He tore cartilage in his right knee and sprained his left shoulder.

Susdorf was batting .339 at the time - tops in the Eastern League.

It ended the 25-year-old's season.

"Right after it all happened, it was definitely frustrating," he says. "I wanted to end the season strong. In the same sense, thinking about the last couple of days, it was a good season. I know I opened eyes. ... Take it for what it is and get some motivation to do rehab."

Susdorf's teammate on that 2004 Hart baseball team was Tyler Lyon.

Lyon was also Hart's starting quarterback and in 2005, Lyon helped guide the Indians to the CIF-SS Division II title game against cross-town rival Canyon.

Lyon went through so much grief during the season - classmates calling for his second-string to take over, injuries affected his play and at times, he just didn't play well.

But he led Hart on an incredible run in the playoffs, even upsetting the No. 2 team in the nation, Mission Viejo.

That Hart team went through other trials and tribulations, even kicking players off the squad after a hazing incident.

But they persevered.

It took them to the title game, where they trailed Canyon 21-13 with 2:20 to play in the fourth quarter and the ball on their own 1-yard line.

They would have to score a touchdown and be successful on a 2-point conversion to tie the game and send it into overtime.

Lyon drove Hart all the way to the Cowboys' 11-yard line.

On fourth-and-10, he completed a pass to receiver Troy Yudin, who was stopped inches from the first-down line.

"The thing about it is you feel for everyone else. I wasn't the only one on that team that felt disappointed for some of the things that happened," Lyon says. "You go in the locker room, you realize how much you've gone through with these guys. You've gone into battle. There are teammates who have all gone through the same emotions - up and down. From this day on, the relationship will not be the same on Monday. You won't be hearing the same things about a loss or the adulation of a win. That's what hurts, when it ends like that, because you don't have another chance with this group of teammates. We had such a great bond."

Players might not get the chance, but coaches sometimes do.

As is the case for Valencia's Donna Lee.

Yet she had to live with letdown first.

In 2005, Lee's Valencia softball team lost 2-0 to Royal High in the CIF-SS Division I final.

It was a game that will be remembered for Lee starting senior Courtney Baughman over sophomore Jordan Taylor.

Baughman was an outstanding pitcher, a pitcher who went on to play for the University of Hawaii.

But Taylor was a rising superstar, the future state player of the year.

Baughman allowed two runs in the first inning and was removed - though one of the runs crossed the plate because of an error.

Taylor came into the game to relieve her in the first inning and went the rest of the way, silencing Royal.

"The immediate emotion from a coaching standpoint is it really stung," Lee says. "You second-guess yourself as a coach. Should I have started Jordan or Courtney? ... You live with it the entire summer. That was very, very difficult."

Two years later, Lee's Valencia team won the Division I title and was named the national champion by USA Today.

Lee says the loss made her and her program stronger.
But you don't think that at the time.

"You can tell the kids all you want - one team wins, it's the journey that counts - it still bites when you lose," she says. "The agony of defeat."

The agony of defeat was horrible in February for Canyon guard Shorty Dent.

The valley's girls basketball player of the year helped lead Canyon to a deep run through the playoffs.

In a physical contest, Canyon was stopped short of reaching the Division IIAA championship game, losing 60-53 to Buena at Ventura High on Feb. 26.

The disgust in Dent's voice is still audible five months later.

Dent fouled out with 3:54 to play in the fourth quarter.

"I felt like in my stomach, I felt like I was going to throw up," she says. "Oh my God - and then a pounding in my head. What could I have done better in the game that could have prevented this foul out? ... I was frustrated at myself and the ref."

That feeling continued in the locker room after the game.

The Canyon basketball team sat in a room - one Dent likened to a hot dungeon.

There was a wrestling mat on the floor, wrestling dummies around the players, a chalkboard and no bathrooms.

Girls sat on the floor, tears streaming down their faces.

Because there were no paper towels or tissues in the room, the girls had to cry into their sweaty jerseys.

The pain was soothed by a random joke.

Then the girls filed out of the locker room to a round of applause.

So close.

Yet so far away.



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